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Rab has lost his bite

"THIS is the best I've felt in years," declares the irrepressible Rab C Nesbitt to long-suffering wife Mary. "I've got my mojo back." The rest of us might beg to differ.

I've always loved Rab C Nesbitt, the boozy, workshy Glaswegian street philosopher who's been stomping the mean streets of Govan (where I have relatives) for over a decade, dispensing his grim view of life's outrageous fortunes.

Rab was a breath of outrageous comedy fresh air when he burst onto screens in his own series in 1990, played with gusto by Gregor Fisher.

He was gross and he was over the top, but he gave an exaggerated, yet always compassionate, view of life in a part of Scotland where TV producers usually feared to tread.

Writer Ian Pattison tackled dark subjects -- including alcoholism, drug abuse, neo-fascism and sexually-transmitted disease -- that most sitcoms run a mile from. You never expect subtlety from Rab, but you do expect plenty of laughs.

This 10th series, however, suggests it might be time for him to hang up his scruffy headband, frayed pinstripe suit and grubby string vest.

To use a phrase beloved of Glaswegians, it was pure sh**e.

Rab, off the drink for three years, thus depriving us of the interaction with his mates in the pub that gave the series much of its zing, is pushing 60 and worried about his prostate.

When we first see him, he's relieving himself in the "en suite": the plastic basin Mary (Elaine C Smith) uses to wash the dishes.

He heads off for a rectal examination by a female doctor, giving the episode it's one truly funny, if inevitably disgusting, line: "There could be pie suppers lodged up there since the summer of love."

Meanwhile, the smarmy Minister for Work, Chingford Steel, played by a barely-trying Richard E Grant, is visiting Govan.

Desperately needing a pee, he knocks on the Nesbitts' door, whereupon Mary, who's just seen her cleaning business go down the toilet and has been fuming at Steel on the television, whacks him over the head with a frying pan and ties him to a chair, leading to a full-blown siege situation.

There was a time when Pattison would have had great fun with a scenario like this. Instead, it fizzled out in a sluggish mixture of slapstick and surrealism, climaxing with a peculiar moment when an actor playing Jason King, a suave character from Sixties and Seventies television that would mean nothing to anyone under 45, turned up in an armoured car to offer Rab a silk shirt to surrender.

I have no idea what was running through Pattison's head when he wrote this bit, but I know what was running through mine: end it now. Sad.

We're all aware the Catholic Church has ruined countless lives but who could have guessed that they squeezed all the fun out of dying, too?

As the documentary Faire (Wake) pointed out, up until the 19th century, Irish wakes were boisterous affairs that went on for three days.

Friends and relatives of the deceased had to do something to stay awake while allowing the spirit to say its long farewell, hence the drinking, singing and -- in a revelation that was new to me -- the playing of various parlour games.

Once the priests muscled in and exerted control, wakes became sombre affairs.

This film was frequently sombre too, as well as a touch overlong (I could have done without the frequent cuts to the controversial Cathal O Searcaigh reciting his dreary poems), but it was good on filling in the historical and spiritual background to our ancient death rituals, many of which are rapidly dying out.

There was a time, recalled one contributor, when the mirrors, pictures and television set would be covered for three days. "That was entertainment, this was bereavement." Surely we could have a bit of both?